In Depth

Cuts what cuts? Police chief needs extra cash to fight IS

Exclusive: Met Commissioner needs more officers to combat increased threat on London streets

The Mole

While the Lib Dems and the Tories are beating each other up over the future level of spending cuts, the Mole learns that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, has put in a bid for a bigger budget to pay for more anti-terrorism officers.

Senior intelligence figures in Whitehall have told the Mole that Hogan-Howe has asked Home Secretary Theresa May - who has presided over a 20 per cent cut in spending on policing - for an increase in the Met budget to fund extra Special Branch officers to combat the increased threat from IS-related terrorist attacks on the capital's streets.

One intelligence source told the Mole: “We think we’ll be extremely lucky to get by without an attack on our streets.  He [Hogan-Howe] needs more help. He should get it.”

Hogan-Howe warned that the level of threat - heightened from “substantial” to “severe” - was putting strains on his resources when he appeared on the Andrew Marr Show on 23 November. He particularly feared a "lone-wolf” attack like the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby outside Woolwich barracks in May 2013.

It led to speculation that Chancellor George Osborne would announce more anti-terrorism spending in his Autumn Statement. He didn’t. 

With the committee stage of a new anti-terrorism bill – designed to tackle returning jihadists from the Syrian civil war - opening in the Commons tomorrow, it is inconceivable that Theresa May will reject Hogan-Howe’s demand. 

But will the Treasury be prepared to increase the Home Office budget, to avoid this necessary increase in manpower leading to cuts elsewhere in policing?

Hogan-Howe’s bid for more money comes as the rift between the Lib Dems and the Tories over future public spending cuts gets nastier by the minute – on the surface at least.

The latest Lib Dem Cabinet minister to attack government strategy is Danny Alexander – despite the fact that, as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, he was jointly responsible for drawing up the Autumn Statement with Osborne.  

In an article for the Daily Telegraph, Alexander accuses the Conservatives of "pandering to Ukip" and “causing pain” with a policy of "austerity forever”. In short, he says, the Tories are in the grip of a "pre-election panic".

The Mole advises readers to take this with a huge pinch of salt: these Lib Dem attacks on the Tories are as carefully choreographed as Strictly Come Dancing. 

Alexander, in particular, is trying to persuade his own side that he has not morphed into a Tory since going to the Treasury. Anyone who saw the footage of Alexander and Osborne leaving for the Commons last week, and returning together in the Treasury limo after the Autumn Statement had been delivered, would be thinking ‘bromance’ not ‘rift’. 

With the noticeable exception of Business Secretary Vince Cable, who makes little effort to disguise his contempt for his Tory colleagues, senior Lib Dems are trying to create distance from the Tories so they can fight their own general election campaign, but simultaneously keep the coalition together to avoid a government crisis. 

The BBC’s assistant political editor, Norman Smith, told Today programme listeners the bottom line is that Cameron and Clegg will hold the coalition together until polling day.

And if the numbers work out on 7 May, there are still senior Lib Dems who – whatever they may be telling the media now – will he happy to form a second coalition with the Tories. Asked on the same programme whether a fresh coalition was still possible, Danny Alexander declined to rule it out.

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